When we returned to Greece after two weeks in the United States, an Albanian friend approached us so happy, so uncharacteristically joyful.
She blurted out that she had found more work.
Never mind that she was working in the place of one who, like almost everyone else in this Balkan world, was on holiday in August and would return to the job.
Never mind that the work was clearly short-lived with little prospect that it would continue.
She had work!
As a result, for at least a little while, she had money for school supplies for her little one headed to kindergarten the next week.
Never mind that, as of Sept. 1, austerity measures imposed by the Greek government would add 23 percent to the cost of many family purchases.
Never mind that her husband is still seeking steady employment.
Never mind that her temp job will be compensated at less than the Greek equivalent of the minimum wage.
She had work!
These are tough times for Albanian immigrants in Greece, even as these are also difficult times for Greeks.
As much as 10 percent of the 500,000 Albanian immigrants in Athens have returned home to Albania. The irony is that prospects in Albania are even grimmer than Greece.
When they consider returning home, their choices are complicated by the reality that, in many cases, their children do not speak the Albanian language. Having been born and reared in Greece, the kids are strangers in their parents’ homeland.
Since the early 1990s, Albanians have worked hard at sub-par wages in Greece. With a superior work ethic and a desperate willingness to work for less, they quickly became the blue-collar labor force.
Just after Greece entered the European Union, just before the Olympic Games of 2004, there was much work.
But now, the dirty economic laundry of Greece’s dysfunctional and inefficient economy has come out; the soiled secret of the large deficit left by the Olympic Games has been exposed. And the grimy reality of many Greeks’ unwillingness to pay taxes has been made known, for all to see.
Albanians in Greece have been wonderful savers. Often working two or more jobs and sending money home to their destitute parents, they were storing up a portion of their paychecks so that, one day, they could buy their own place or return to Albania and open a business.
But now, many have no work, and those who do often are not paid for six months. As a result, their savings are depleted and their desperation is growing.
If, as has been said, disillusionment is the offspring of an illusion, many Albanians are concluding that their hope was nothing but a fantasy.
Daily, the hard gaze of despair looks back at us from the faces of our Albanian friends.
Sometimes, it shines from behind proud teeth, as a sarcastic smirk with upturned lips and wild eyes; at other times, it comes in tearful, fearful eyes, as the vulnerable and no-longer-proud plead, without words, for help.
BobNewell is ministry coordinator the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Athens, Greece. He blogs at ItsGreek2U. This article is taken from one that first appeared in the September 2011 edition of The Newell Post, Bob and Janice Newell’s monthly electronic newsletter.